When you sleep train, you might hear people tell you that you need to remove all sleep props.
Wait…what’s a sleep prop?
A sleep prop is any item/activity/person that a child relies on in order to fall asleep.
Your child needs their pacifier to fall asleep. (Paci = sleep prop)
Your child needs to nurse to fall asleep. (Nursing = sleep prop)
Your child needs a blankie to fall asleep. (Blankie = sleep prop)
If these things help your child fall asleep, are they really that bad?
Sleep props only become an issue when they become an issue.
When your child’s pacifier falls out of their mouth and they wake up 5 times a night and you need to replace it? That’s an issue.
If your child can find a pacifier in their crib and put it in their mouth without relying on you? Not an issue, really. (Of course, depending on how many times they wake up to look for their pacifier, this could be inferring with their sleep. And in that case, it might be best to get rid of it completely)
When I began working with Calvin (6 months) and his family, there were major sleep prop issues with his pacifier. Calvin would wake up 8+ times a night, couldn’t put his pacifier back in his mouth, so mom or dad had to go into his room and plop it in.
And then Calvin was asleep…for an hour, and then the process would repeat.
As you can imagine, a situation like this is exhausting and frustrating for all involved. At this point, the pacifier was doing more harm than good, and I recommended that mom and dad get rid of it completely.
Pacifiers are amazing for newborns. When I came home from the hospital with my daughter, I immediately introduced the pacifier and it saved my sanity. Newborns have a natural instinct to suck, so a pacifier works well to satisfy that need.
However, as children become older (after 4 months), that need decreases. Children become used to the comfort their pacifier provides and that’s really the reason they cling to it so much. However, your child can find comfort in other ways, too.
They can snuggle with a blankie (the APA recommends nothing be in your child’s crib until 12 months).
They can suck their fingers.
They can rub their eyes or face.
So a pacifier isn’t NEEDED, and if it’s interfering with sleep in your household, it’s best to ditch it altogether.
How to Ditch the Pacifier
You have two options when you decide to wean your child from their pacifier: cold turkey or gradually. Let’s discuss both options so that you can make the right decision for your little one.
Ditching the Pacifier Cold Turkey
I prefer getting rid of the pacifier (once you decide to do it) immediately and without hesitation. Throw the pacifiers away (or cut them up if you think you’re going to be tempted to retrieve them and sanitize them if your child starts crying). In some cases, I’ve seen children respond perfectly fine to giving up the pacifier – you will never know if that’s your child until you try.
Now, depending on your child’s age, this cold turkey approach can look differently.
If your child is toddler-age, you can tell him that the new babies at the hospital need pacifiers and you’re going to take all of his to drop off. Don’t be afraid to get creative in your approach. However, whatever you do, if you plan on going cold turkey, get all of the pacis out of the house so you aren’t tempted to fall back on one.
If your child doesn’t understand ideas like that, or is too young for an explanation, or you don’t want to trick your kid, simply take the pacifier away and throw them out.
Gradually Weaning Off the Pacifier
If you don’t think cutting the paci cold turkey will work for you or your child, you can take a more gradual approach.
When your child wakes up from their nap, take their pacifier and put it away, only taking it back out when it’s time for bed. If your child is heavily dependent on their paci, this can be challenging, so take it slow. This might mean your child goes 5 minutes without it one day, and then the next day 7 minutes. Gradually increase the time until they are no longer asking for it.
There are also products on the market that help in the weaning process. They are pacifiers designed to gradually get smaller so that your child becomes used to not sucking on something constantly. Be sure to do your research on all products before you purchase, as safety standards vary from company to company.
When it comes to getting rid of the pacifier, the earlier, the better.
At some point, you know you’re going to have to get rid of it, since your child can’t show up to kindergarten sucking a pacifier.
Find a day that you want to do it, throw them out or make a plan, and stick to it. Within a few days, your child will become used to not relying on their sleep prop and can begin to develop healthier sleeping habits.